Economic Ideas and Institutions in Eastern Europe

In the wake of the 1989 revolutions, not only Eastern European but also Western economies underwent profound institutional change. This change was intertwined with simultaneous shifts caused by globalization, and, more recently, European integration and the 2008 financial crisis. As a result, indigenous values, concepts and theories, which play a crucial role in shaping economic institutions, are in a state of flux all over the world.

This research focus aims at understanding institutional and cultural change in Eastern Europe in conjunction with recent developments on the global marketplace of ideas. The program is multidisciplinary (involving economists, political scientists, sociologists, anthropologists, and historians), comparative, and—despite its “history of ideas” approach—policy-relevant. During the past two and a half decades, it has concentrated on the rediscovery of liberalism in the region, the impact of the communist legacy, old and new populism, the reception of Western economic and social theories in Eastern Europe, the new welfare paradigms, the cultural consequences of globalization, the cohabitation of economic cultures in the enlarged European Union, and the varieties of post-communist capitalism.

Building on the results of these projects, a new long-term comparative research program on the evolution of economic ideas under communism and post-communism was launched in 2014 (Between Bukharin and Balcerowicz: A Comparative History of Economic Thought under Communism /Triple B). The research goals are given a sad timeliness by the growing popularity of illiberal doctrines of renationalization, large-scale state intervention and protectionism in a number of post-communist countries, as well as an interesting twist by the reemergence of certain collectivist ideas in the West.

In 2015, Triple B passed its first, experimental phase. The participants of the methodological workshop of the program in April 2015 discussed the results of the pilot studies, and—based on their high quality—decided to publish two comparative volumes. The first traces the twists and turns of the road leading from the idealization of public ownership to a reluctant rediscovery of private property rights while the second shows how the monopoly of verbal analysis in communist political economy was broken by the influx of mathematical models from the West without resulting in a radical turn to neoclassical economics. Both will be published by Rowman and Littlefield in its Lexington Books series during 2016/17. (See “Revisiting Communism: Collectivist Economic Thought in Historical Perspective“.) In June 2016, the project will be presented to the conference of the History of Economics Society at Duke University.

In June 2015, the IWM and the Central European University organized a conference on Hungary (see program) that serves as an example of “inverse transition” today. During the past couple of years, the government of Viktor Orbán managed to replace a republican regime with the so-called “System of National Cooperation”(SNC). One aim of the conference was to find an appropriate description for the new regime, be it “authoritarian”, “populist”, “illiberal”, “nationalist”, similar to a mafia regime, or otherwise. Beyond the question of labels, the idea was to explore the historical prerequisites for the SNC and its specifics in comparison with other post-communist systems in Eastern Europe. The conference was supported by the Grüne Bildungswerkstatt, Austria and the Green European Foundation. An edited volume including the conference papers will be published in 2016.

Further details about current and former projects:


Head of Program

  • János Mátyás Kovács

    IWM Permanent Fellow
    Senior member of RECET, Institute of East European History, Vienna University; Professor of Economic History, Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest
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Former Fellows & Guests